Northwestern storm: “Devastating” flood damage, 1 dead in BC

BELLINGHAM, Washington (AP) – As many parts of West Washington began to dry up Tuesday after a storm that poured rain for days, waters in some places continued to rise, more people were urged to evacuate and crews worked to restore power and reopen roads.

Officials in the small town of Sumas, Washington, near the Canadian border called the flood damage devastating. Officials said on Facebook on Tuesday that hundreds of people had been evacuated and estimated that 75% of homes had water damage.

The soak reminded people of the record of western Washington, a severe flood in November 1990 when two people died and there were more than 2,000 evacuations, officials said.

“These families and businesses need our prayers and support as we begin the process of cleaning and rebuilding over the next few days,” the Facebook post said.

Across the border, a woman’s body was recovered from a landslide northeast of Vancouver, British Columbia, near Lillooet that was triggered by record rainfall. Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at least two other people had been reported missing.

Rapidly rising water levels of the Sumas River in Washington state overwhelmed rescuers in Abbotsford, British Columbia, on Tuesday, where 1,100 homes were evacuated. Those residents have joined thousands of others in the province who have been forced out of their homes by floods or landslides since Sunday night.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said on Tuesday that impassable highways were creating chaos as authorities tried to drive people to evacuation sites.

“I break my heart to see what’s going on in our city,” he said.

Southwest of Sumas, Washington, a 59-year-old Everson man identified by police on Tuesday as Jose Garcia remained missing after his truck was swept into a flooded field and he was clinging to a tree.

Crews partially reopened the West Coast’s main north-south highway, Interstate 5, near Bellingham, Washington, following its complete end abruptly due to landslide debris. The northbound lanes remained closed Tuesday evening while crews continued to work.

Additionally, six railway wagons that were sitting on tracks in a BNSF railway yard in Sumas derailed due to the flood on Tuesday, said Lena Kent, BNSF’s director general of public affairs. Trains at that location and others in western Washington will not operate until water recedes and tracks are inspected and repaired if necessary, she said.

Canada’s two largest railroads are expected to take several days to clear tracks in southern British Columbia that impede the movement of goods to the port in Vancouver.

In the northern Washington city of Ferndale, officials on Tuesday urged people in homes and businesses to evacuate in an area near the rising Nooksack River. Attendees near the city’s main street rescued a man on Tuesday who mistakenly drove into floodwater. The half-dozen people waded into water up to their chests and pushed the floating car to drier ground.

The rains were caused by an atmospheric river – a huge rain of moisture extending over the Pacific and into Washington and Oregon.

It was the second major widespread flood event in the northwestern part of Washington state in less than two years, and climate change is prompting more powerful and frequent severe weather, Whatcom County officials told the Bellingham Herald.

About 5.57 inches of rain fell at Bellingham International Airport from Saturday to Monday, November 15th. The normal monthly rainfall is 5.2 inches for November, according to data from National Weather Service.

At the height of the storm, more than 158,000 electric customers in western Washington on Monday had no power when wind speeds reached 60 mph (96 kph), including one gust of 58 mph (93 kph) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Schools in and around the city of Bellingham were closed on Tuesday for the second day in a row.

West of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula, the U.S. Coast Guard helped local authorities evacuate about 10 people Monday near the town of Forks.

More than 31,000 Washington power customers were left without power on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for several rivers around western Washington. There was good news in that south of Bellingham, the Skagit River at Mount Vernon crested at a level below that of a flood wall built in 2016 to retain fast waters, The Seattle Times reported.

Along the Skagit River off Mount Vernon in the town of Hamilton, floodwaters surrounding homes slowly receded Tuesday evening, Q13-TV reported. Dozens of people, including Bert Kerns, escaped to higher grounds at the Hamilton First Baptist Church on Sunday. He was among those who had not yet been able to reach his house.

“Rough. A nightmare, ”said Kerns, who has lived in Hamilton since 1980.

Governor Jay Inslee on Monday declared a severe weather emergency in 14 counties.

Lisa Baumann, The Associated Press

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